The story opens with the narrator describing the little Dutch village and the surrounding country, a quiet and magical place. We are introduced to the local schoolteacher, the gawky Ichabod Crane, considered to be the most learned man in the area. He is particularly fond of witchcraft and magic, including the local tale of the headless Hessian who rides through the area at night looking for his missing head.
Crane is enamored with Katrina Van Tassel, a local lass whose house also provides wonderful food. He dreams of Katrina--and the food--but she has another suitor: Brom Bones, a handsome man who is quite the opposite of Ichabod. Brom decides to play a series of pranks on Ichabod. One night at a party at the Van Tassels, Ichabod becomes so overwhelmed by the good food that he decides to ask for Katrina's hand in marriage. He is turned down, however, and he sadly begins his ride home.
While on the road, Ichabod encounters the Headless Horseman (actually Brom Bones), who chases him and finally knocks Ichabod from his horse with his severed head (actually a pumpkin). When Ichabod does not show up to teach his class the next morning, a search party investigates. All they find is his hat and a few of his belongings alongside a broken pumpkin. Brom marries Katrina, but Ichabod is never seen again.
The primary themes of the story have to do with the differences between witchcraft and tall tales, and realistic beliefs; and how the lives of country folk differ from city life.
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